A citizen’s arrest occurs when an ordinary person either detains a criminal or directs police officers to do so. Florida law states "the arrest of a person may be lawfully made also by any peace officer or a private person," but there are no specific statutes dealing with citizen's arrests. Generally, you can perform a citizen's arrest only if the perpetrator commits a felony and you either witness the act yourself or reasonably believe the person is guilty of the crime.
Standard for a Citizen's Arrest
The case McAnnis v. State explains the standard for a citizen's arrest. First of all, there must be an intention to make an arrest. The person making the arrest must actually seize or detain the suspect and communicate to the suspect his intention to make an arrest. Additionally, the suspect must understand the intention of the person making the arrest.
If the police take custody of a person without a warrant, the court must decide whether the citizen's arrest is valid. If the citizen's arrest is deemed to be invalid, evidence collected may be inadmissible in misdemeanor cases.
Read More: What Is a Citizen's Arrest?
Making Citizen's Arrest in Florida
If you detain someone because you believe he committed a crime, you must inform him that you are making a citizen's arrest. While Florida generally limits citizen's arrests to felony cases, sometimes citizen's arrests can be made for misdemeanors, such as when a store employee witnesses a shoplifting. A private citizen can effect a citizen's arrest for a DUI, which is considered a breach of the peace.
If you decide to make a citizen's arrest, which usually occurs in the spur of the moment, make sure there's plenty of evidence to back you up. You are not permitted to use excessive force to detain a suspect, nor can you deliberately harm the person. You could be charged with assault if you unnecessarily hurt the suspect or you may be charged with false arrest if the police find no evidence of a crime.
Once you detain a suspect, you must call law enforcement officials immediately. Making an unjust citizen's arrest can backfire and land you in court.
Citizen Arrest Laws by State
Most U.S. states, with a few exceptions, like North Carolina and Washington, have statutes granting private citizens the power to make arrests. However, every state has different laws governing when a private citizen can make an arrest. Most states allow citizen's arrests only for felonies.
In Florida, citizens can detain another individual until law enforcement arrives if they witness or have reasonable belief that the individual committed a felony.
- Court Listener: McAnnis v. State, 386 So. 2d 1230
- Court Listener: Edwards v. State, 462 So.2d 581
- Online Sunshine: Florida Statutes Title XLVII Chapter 941 Section 14
- North Carolina General Assembly: North Carolina General Statues Chapter 15A Article 20
- South Dakota Legislature: South Dakota Codified Laws Chapter 23A-3
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.